In the middle of the Baltic Sea, somewhere between Helsinki and Stockholm and surrounded by over a thousand small islands lies Kökar. This island in the southernmost part of Åland was already inhabited 3000 years ago. Today Kökar has a steady population of around 250 people. During the summer the island is a popular tourist destination but in winter the locals have their island pretty much for themselves. Only a few foreigners visit Kökar during those cold and rough December days. I was lucky enough to be one of them.
After I applied to the Åland Archipelago Artist in Residence Programme I was invited by Kökarkultur to come to the island for two weeks just before Christmas. Kökarkultur rf was founded 25 years ago to promote the cultural life of the archipelago. But also to improve the environment and initiate a collaboration between individuals and organizations for cultural events and creative exchange.
During my two weeks on Kökar, where I worked on my thesis project, I learned to love the rugged terrain of massive rocks and crooked trees. In accord with the ever-changing winds, the trees and bushes have adapted in peculiar shapes. These forest patches of twisted birch, pines and junipers give the island a magical and moody appeal, especially on those days when you don’t meet a single person on your walk but a group of deers and jumpy white rabbits.
A cozy, white wooden House in Hellsö is the home for the guest artists who come to Kökar from all around the world. At times the wild landscape and lack of people can make you feel isolated. But Johanna, the coordinator for the residence will always make sure that no artist will feel somber and can cheer you up with a visit to her fluffy sheep or a trip to the local supermarket (there’s only one on the island) to fill up your coffee and chocolate supplies. About 50 artists and writers stay at the residence every year. The length of the residency can be just a couple of days or several weeks depending on the need of the artist. The application is open in January for all disciplines and also Aalto’s art and design students are more than welcome to apply.